Shoes Off Please

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Having lived for many years in Asia I am very accustomed with the practice of removing shoes before entering someone’s home.

In fact I am so used to the habit that it feels strange, even shocking, to see people wearing shoes indoors.

Here in Malaysia it is not uncommon to see the practice extended to shops and offices.

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For example, this English tuition centre and the next door laundry shop in Putrajaya both request customers to leave their shoes outside.

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Not only does it save their spotlessly clean tiled floors from getting grubby, but it also makes customers feel more relaxed and ‘at home’ when entering the shop.

My dentist is another shoes-off place but the doctor’s clinic, where you would think hygiene is a concern, allows shoes inside.

Supermarkets and malls of course are definitely shoes-on. It would be chaotic to try and monitor the thousands of pairs of shoes and thieves would use the opportunity to upgrade their footwear.

Shoes-off in shops is a quaint practice but it is unlikely to spread far beyond the local dhobi shops.

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Masjid Tanah, Melaka

Masjid Tanah Shophouse

When driving to Melaka recently I decided to take an alternative route on Highway 5 through scenic rural countryside and pretty kampongs with traditional wooden houses.  The road passes through small towns with interesting names like Ramuan China Besar, Masjid Tanah and Tangga Batu.

Ramuan China means ‘Chinese ingredients’ and is where Chinese traders of long ago would come to source herbs and plants for use in Chinese medicine. Tangga Batu means ‘stone stairs’ and probably refers to the ornate tiled steps that can be found at the entrance of many old wooden houses in Melaka and Negeri Sembilan.

Masjid Tanah mosque

Masjid Tanah is named after a mosque built from mud by a Sheikh from Gujarat around 1800. The original mosque was seemingly demolished but rebuilt in 1951. I guess this is the building since it has one of those brown tourist information signs with the words Bangunan Masjid Tanah. The mosque has tapered pillars of a sort found in India and looks old apart from the recent roof.

Pink and blue shophouses in Masjid Tanah

The town centre boasts a few blocks of neat shophouses from the 1930’s which have been painted in ‘his and hers’ pink and blue.

Masjid Tanah Clock Tower

There is also a clock tower with an inscription in Bahasa, Tamil and Chinese informing that the clock marks Malaya’s independence and was built with donations from all races in Masjid Tanah and bears the date 31/8/1957.

MCA office, Masjid Tanah

You can’t find much information on the web about Masjid Tanah and what little there is is in Bahasa.  Google Translate comes out with some very strange results sometimes. It translates Masjid Tanah as ‘Herefordshire’. The two places do not seem to have much in common!

If you are not in a hurry, I recommend taking this alternative route to Melaka. Coming from the north, exit the North-South Expressway at Junction 223.

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In the Footsteps of Hang Tuah

Hang Tuah duelling with a Majapahit Warrior.

The name Hang Tuah is one that keeps cropping up as one travels around Malaysia. He is a historical folk hero but some question whether he ever really existed. Perhaps like Robin Hood, his legend may be based on a real person but his supposed exploits have been embellished with fantasy over the centuries.

Hang Tuah's well

According to the information at his burial site, he was said to have migrated as a child from Bentan (Indonesia?) to Melaka in the early 1400s. He grew up in the village of Kampung Duyung a few miles outside of Melaka city, where this well, claimed to have been dug by Hang Tuah himself, can still be seen.

Tak Melayu Hilang Di DuniaAs youths, Hang Tuah and his friends/relatives Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu became accomplished practitioners of silat, Malaysia’s highly effective form of martial arts. The gang used these fighting skills to fend off pirate attacks and resist incursions from Siam, thus gaining recognition and gratitude from Sultan Mansoor Shah of Malacca (1456-1477) who appointed Hang Tuah as Laksamana (Admiral) and Shahbandar (Harbourmaster).  Malacca prospered during this period and Hang Tuah was said to have coined the phrase ‘Malays will never vanish from the face of the earth’.

Gunung Ledang (Mt. Ophir)

Illustration: Tim Lai

One colourful tale recounts how Hang Tuah, by this time an old man, was commanded by the Sultan to seek Puteri Gunung Ledang’s hand in marriage. The princess laid down conditions that her dowry must comprise a (40km long) golden bridge from Melaka to the top of Gunung Ledang (Mount Ophir) , seven trays of mosquitoes’ hearts, seven trays of germs’ livers, seven jars of virgins’ tears and a bowl of Raja Ahmad’s blood (the Sultan’s son). Needless to say, he was unable to comply.

Hang Tuah and his friends became entangled in various insidious intrigues at the palace. Hang Jebat ran amok, slaying several officials, before Hang Tuah was ordered by the Sultan to kill Hang Jebat. Hang Tuah himself was, by some accounts, murdered by his own brother Hang Kasturi though other versions have Hang Tuah dying of old age.  Hang Kasturi and Hang Jebat’s tombs can be found in Melaka as described on my Malaysia Traveller website.

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Here are some of the other places I have visited in Malaysia associated with Hang Tuah:

Hang Tuah's Mausoleum at Tanjung Kling

Hang Tuah’s Mausoleum is located at Tanjung Kling, just outside Melaka.

At the peak of Gunung Datuk in Negeri Sembilan is an indentation in the rock said to be Hang Tuah’s footprint.

At the peak of Gunung Datuk in Negeri Sembilan is an indentation in the rock said to be Hang Tuah’s footprint.

One of Hang Tuah's 'footprints' can be found at Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan)

Another ‘footprint’ can be found at Tanjung Tuan (Cape Rachado), Melaka’s enclave near Port Dickson.

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Gearbox Soup

Gearbox Soup restaurant at Batu 8, Jalan Gombak

A popular dish in Malaysia is Gearbox Soup, a hearty beef bone marrow broth. A glance at this photo explains how the soup was given its peculiar name. The knee joint of a bull is said to provide the best gear box shape and contains a generous dollop of bone marrow which is sucked out using a fat straw. The bone is slowly cooked for up to 12 hours together with ingredients like onions, garlic, ginger, star anise, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli, limes and parsley. Despite its unappetizing name, it is said to be delicious.

I wonder what this soup was called before gearboxes were invented?

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Queen Victoria Fountain, Kuala Lumpur

Queen Victoria Fountain, Kuala Lumpur

I have never paid much attention to the Queen Victoria Fountain on previous visits to  Merdeka Square, preferring instead to focus on the magnificent copper-domed Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the other elegant landmarks nearby.

The fountain was sent out from Britain to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 but apparently was not assembled on site until 1904, by which time Victoria had already died. The delay might have been because it was originally intended to be located in Market Square but the police thought it would cause a traffic obstruction so it was set up on the padang instead, close to Chartered Bank.

It’s commendable that KL Municipality has preserved the fountain in working order for the past 110 years but I can’t say it is an object of great beauty. The green tiles are reminiscent of a Victorian public toilet and the eight statues in the fountain’s base are just plain ugly.

Queen Victoria Fountain, Kuala Lumpur

Some guide books refer to these creatures as ‘winged lions’. On closer inspection, they don’t look much like lions.  More like gryphons, the heraldic beasts of the City of London, with dragons’ wings, knobbly torsos and fishy faces. They remind me of the scary monsters in the episode of Fireball XL5 (or was it Stingray?) that frightened me so much as a child that I had to hide behind the sofa!

The shape of the top of the fountain bears some resemblance to KL Tower and blends in well with the city skyline.

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One Man and his Dog (and Horse)–British Graveyard at Alor Gajah

One of the ‘Places of Interest’ marked on my map of Melaka state is the British Graveyard in the small town of Alor Gajah. I went there yesterday to take a look.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Tucked away in the grounds of a primary school, it’s a very small graveyard, a fenced enclosure containing just three graves belonging to an English soldier, his horse and his dog.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

The dog’s grave is the one in front, the soldier in the middle and the horse behind.

The soldier’s name was George Holford Walker. He was only 18 years old when he was killed serving as a junior officer with the 5th Madras Native Infantry, a regiment of the Madras Army of the (British)Honourable East India Company.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah, grave of George Holford Walker

The inscription on the tombstone reads:

 

To The Memory Of Ensign George Holford Walker Doing Duty With The 5th Regiment M.N.I Who Fell While Gallantly Leading On His Division To Storm A Stockade At Allegaza On The 3rd May 1832.

 

This Tablet Was Erected By His Brother Officers As A Mark Of Their Esteem For One So Universally Beloved.

 

 

A plaque (in Bahasa) at the graveyard explains the context of his death. In 1829 the British administration running Malacca attempted to impose taxes on the district of Naning at the rate of 10% of the total harvest. Naning’s leader, Datuk Dol Said, refused to pay, arguing that Naning was outside Malacca’s jurisdiction and had not been taxed by the earlier Dutch and Portuguese colonizers. Britain sent in troops in 1831 but they were repulsed by Dol Said’s men. In 1832, a stronger British force was sent to Naning and they overcame Dol Said who was bought off with a pension of $100 per month until his death in 1849. Walker was one of the British casualties in this scrap. A fatal shot to the heart killed him instantly. Locals said his horse and dog stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief. As a tribute to Walker’s youthful bravery and the devotion of his animal companions, the dog and horse were buried alongside their master.

The poet Margaret Hodson (maiden name Holford – a relative perhaps?) wrote a tribute to Walker which included this verse:

In yonder distant wilderness

He found a soldier’s grave,

Where the cassis sheds its spiciness,

And the broad palm-branches wave.

He sleeps on the wild and distant shore,

Where the elephant stalks and the eagles soar,

And the sandal breathes its balmy sighs

On the lonely bed where our hero lies:

They laid his lovely head

Where his brave heart’s blood was shed,

And the strangers wept, as they laid it there,

For the early doom of the brave and fair!

Location of British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Primary School next to British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Margaret Hodson’s romantic image of the grave’s location differs somewhat from reality. The grave is in the grounds of this primary school which faces Dataran Keris in the centre of Alor Gajah town. If you visit during a weekend when the school is closed the security guard is more likely to let you in.

Go through the passageway next to the stairs in the centre of this photo and you arrive at the school canteen. The graveyard is right behind the canteen. An odd place for a cemetery but perhaps the sounds of school children playing is company for Walker who was barely older than a child himself.

District Museum, Alor GajahKeris Statue, Dataran Keris , Alor Gajah

1930's shophouses, Alor GajahMasjid Alor Gajah

Also worth seeing while in Alor Gajah is the District Museum and the Keris statue (both in Dataran Keris), a couple of neat blocks of 1930’s shophouses and an architecturally attractive mosque.

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Kampung Baru Coldstream

Road sign for Kampung Baru Coldstream

There is a place near Bidor in Perak state with an unusual name, Kampung Baru Coldstream (meaning Coldstream New Village).

I drove there the other day to take a look.

 

Gateway to Kampong Baru Coldstream

Passing under this Chinese gateway the road passes vegetable fields before arriving at the village.

Kg. Coldstream New Village Community Hall

Kg. Coldstream is one of those ‘new villages’ built during the Malayan Emergency. Scattered communities were forcibly relocated to guarded and fenced villages to protect them from the Communist Terrorists and to prevent the villagers from supplying food, medicines and information to the bandits. I understand the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards were stationed in Perak during the Emergency and may have assisted with the village’s construction.

Main street in Kampung Baru Coldstream

The Coldstream Guards are one of the oldest and most distinguished regiments in the British Army with roots in the Scottish Borders town of Coldstream, a place which, I imagine, bears little resemblance to its Malaysian namesake.

Chinese Temple, Kg. Coldstream

Today Kg. Coldstream looks a fairly typical Malaysian village with a few shops and food stalls, a school and temple. The inhabitants are mostly Chinese of Hokkien origin. The place looks happy and prosperous. Of course there are no fences or guards anymore.

Bedford RL lorries at Kampung Baru Coldstream

I noticed a transport yard with a couple of ancient 1950’s vintage vehicles in fine working condition. They look like Bedford RL lorries, once the workhorse of the British Army. Could they have been sold off as Army Surplus? Did they fall off the back of a lorry? Or were they just left behind by the Coldstream Guards? It’s the least they could have done in exchange for having the village named in their honour.

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